Barack Obama has taken the oath of office, now he’s President of the United States, and, as so many people will tell you more eloquently than I can, it’s an historic moment for any number of reasons. I have some hope for the next few months at least that I’d like to share with you.
There’s a natural tendency when the White House has been in the hands of one party for two (or more) terms for that party to feel a certain sense of entitlement to the presidency. That was absolutely true when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to four terms, his vice president, Harry Truman, ended up finishing one of the terms for him, then being elected to another in his own right. When Dwight Eisenhower was elected Democrats were shocked: they owned the presidency. It belonged to them.
It was certainly true when Jack Kennedy was narrowly elected to the president over Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard Nixon, eight years later. Republicans felt cheated just as Democrats felt cheated when Nixon was elected to the presidency after Kennedy’s, then Johnson’s terms. When Nixon was reelected, and then forced to resign in disgrace to be succeeded by the vice president who been appointed to serve out the term of Nixon’s disgraced vice president, Spiro Agnew, Republicans didn’t feel such a sense of entitlement when Ford lost narrowly to Jimmy Carter a couple of years later.
Carter’s single term was sufficiently troubled that there really wasn’t much of a sense of ownership of the office when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. However, after twelve years of Republican control of the White House, Reagan’s two terms and George H. W. Bush’s term, I think that Republicans really believed that the White House belonged to them. That’s one of the reasons that there was so much resentment of Bill Clinton when he was elected in 1992. How dare he!
There was a similar reaction when George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, further aggravated by the Florida/Supreme Court brouhaha. Democrats were outraged: it was supposed to be Bill Clinton’s third term.
Well, rejoice. I don’t believe that Republican believe that they deserved to have the presidency this time around. That’s a good thing. Honestly, I think it would always be a good thing. No party should have a permanent lock on the presidency or any elective office and however natural a tendency it is a party’s members definitely shouldn’t believe that any office belongs to them.
Barack Obama is serving as president right now but he doesn’t own the office, he’s just borrowing it, and the lack of a feeling of entitlement may help Republicans deal with him more justly than at least some Democrats treated his predecessor. May he have a successful term of office!